Amy Zitelman is the co-founder and CEO of the premium tahini brand, Soom Foods. She graduated from the University of Delaware with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication in 2011 and spent the following year soaking up Israeli culture and teaching English in Israel. She has been talkin’ tahini since January 2013. Amy was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2018 List for the Food and Drink category and she is author of The Tahini Table, Go Beyond Hummus with 100 Recipes for Every Meal and in Between.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I had already started my business, but I was naive and didn’t understand that I was truly diving into my career, when I had an epiphany which confirmed I was truly interested in what I had set out to do, to make tahini a more popular ingredient in the American market. It was during a quiet moment writing a blog post (more like a personal journal) that I realized that my job was presenting me at a crossroad of being able to apply some of my most interesting learnings from my Bachelors Degree in Interpersonal Communication (like the Theory of Reasoned Action and Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion) all while being able to do it on my own terms, as an Entrepreneur.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
Being my own boss and being able to create a company culture that, I hope, others appreciate being a part of.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I jumped in with two feet. We didn’t have the perfect branding, website, packaging, or processes but I had a product I believed in wholeheartedly.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
People have always been very encouraging. I always suggest to others that if they have an idea, telling others about it is the best way to get good advice, connections, and support.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I’ve doubted my business quite a few times but never enough to stop trying!
When did your career reach a tipping point?
Being named to Forbes 30 under 30 (food and beverage category, 2018) was a tipping point in helping me develop more confidence as an entrepreneur.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
We had to participate in a recall in November of 2018 that greatly impacted our business throughout most of 2019. Through extra testing and documentation, we knew our product was not compromised, but the events and actions of others in our supply chain required us to be a part of the process. We overcame it by leaning into our company values; namely, transparency. We communicated with people honestly and directly and addressed their concerns in a timely manner.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
The ability to be present. I’ve learned a lot from Amy Cuddy (both her book, Presence and TED Talk).
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
What I love about being an entrepreneur is being able to contribute to the micro economy – I love employing people and working with other companies that are also employing people and contributing to their communities.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
I have a lot of advice for people entering the Food CPG space: to just name a couple – make sure you really believe in what you are doing (because it. is. hard.) and your product truly serves a need (because there’s a lot out there!). Also, in general, it always takes longer and costs more.
Top photo: Amy Zitelman – Photo Credit Jillian Guyette